How to Help
When helping others, I do my best to understand their experiences from their point of view. I don’t diminish or write off other people’s experiences based on my own.
Academia (through research and textbooks) is an important way to learn about mental illness, but much of what depression is cannot be explained in more abstract and academic terms. Depression is an illness of emotions and in order to understand it, you also have to understand it’s impact on a personal level.
One of the main reasons I decided to share my experiences, was because I had difficulty finding comprehensive first person accounts of mental health issues.
There are many of blogs about mental health online, but I’ve found their content to be inconsistent and the number of sites to be overwhelming. Even when I find a site I like, there are so many posts it’s hard to sort through them. I’ve tried to make each post on MHPOV more of a stand alone article, that you can refer back to and read again.
I’ve also taken a course on Mental Health First Aid provided by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training through university. I was also lucky to be invited by a professor to sit in on a series of psychology lectures covering mood disorders.
Textbooks and websites can be a great sources of information about mental health, but they often only discuss the more technical or clinical sides of mental illness. Going to hear someone speak at an event, meeting someone through volunteer work, talking in person, sharing experiences, and hearing others have given me the most insight into mental health and mental illness.
- “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness” by Kay Redfield Jamison
- “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” by William Styron
- “Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression” edited by Nell Casey
- “Choosing Hope: A Mother’s Story of Love, Loss and Survival” by Ginny Dennehy, with Shelley Fralic
- “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
- “Visions Journal” BC’s Mental Health and Addiction Journal
- “Storm Breaking: An Anthology of Experiences Through Mental Illness and Into Recovery” by Canadian Mental Health Association
Become a Support
Besides my family, my family doctor in 2009 was especially helpful through my diagnosis and beginning of recovery. Though I was very low at the time, I would work up enough energy to go to appointments with her. For a couple months our almost weekly check-ins took on the role of counselling sessions.
I felt safer and more assured of myself in her company, as she truly believed I was capable of recovery. I don’t remember her saying anything that different from others I have spoken with, but it was her genuine interest in me as a person that gave her words weight. Others I’ve met with for talk therapy, haven’t seemed to take as much of an interest in me and I often had to repeat basic information about where I was working, who so and so was, and how I knew them.
By supporting me and showing an actual interest in my life, I trusted her much more when she said I would get better.
Comparing my experiences to others helps me relate to different situations, but this only extends so far. In order to really understand what someone else is experiencing I have to put aside my own assumptions and beliefs and listen.
We should not judge someone based solely on our own experiences, but rather try to understand where they are coming from based on what they are feeling and experiencing. Some circumstances that may not seem stressful to me can be extremely stressful to someone else.
Continual and honest encouragement
It’s easy to lose hope when feeling depressed as the capacity to experience hope is compromised. Having others around who continually support, encourage and remind me of my progress was and remains very helpful. In order to do this affectively its important that those trying to help me understand what depression is and how difficult it can make the simplest tasks. Somedays it can take a incredible amount of mental and physical energy just to get out of bed and keep up with basic self-care.
Understanding the difficulties of mental illness is important in providing honest support, that doesn’t sounding patronizing or fake. When more severely depressed, I had many days where going for a short walk was all that I could do. As easy and trivial as it seems when I’m feeling well, those where important steps along my recovery.
Knowing recovery is possible
In the past, when more severely depressed, I lost all hope of recovery. I hated myself, the world, and the seemingly unceasing emotional pain I was experiencing.
Today, I remind myself that I am always capable of recovery no matter how low I get or how bad my thoughts seem. My mind is still capable of returning to a more healthy state. Knowing this, desperate and suicidal thoughts have not been able to wear me down like they had in the past. I acknowledge having negative thoughts, remind myself that they stem from depression (an illness that causes negative thoughts), then do my best put more energy into my recovery and living a healthy life.
As long as I remember that I have enjoyed life in the past, I know that my mind is capable of producing those same emotions if I can just get through whatever thoughts depression is temporarily causing.
Know when to refer to professional care
- Know the warning signs of depression.
If someone could benefit from seeing a doctor or other health care professional, don’t shy away from starting the conversation. Ease into it, normalize the persons experiences (depression is an illness that affects many people), reaffirm their difficulties, let them know help is out there and recovery is possible.
Advocate for care
My family doctor was a great advocate on my behalf and got me into additional professional services (talk therapy, CBT) much faster than if she had been less passive about it. My parents also helped me keep track of and get to all my appointments.
Be conscious of your own thoughts and actions
- Watch your everyday language and reactions to people with mental health issues. Don’t write people off by calling them crazy or unfairly judging them.
- Don’t let stigma stop you from helping others.
- Help reduce stigma by starting the conversation. Be an example, show that you’re not afraid to discuss your own thoughts or emotions.
Inform others around you
- I often find myself in conversations where people are using words like ‘crazy’, ‘bipolar’, ‘depressed’, ‘OCD’, or ‘psycho’. Sometimes they are exaggerating someone’s behaviour while other times they are making fun of or dismissing someone else’s. It can be hard to do so but it’s important to speak up in these situations, at least every once in a while.
- Mention that the person they are discussing may actually have mental health issues that explain their behaviour.
- Explain what depression or bipolar disorder really are and that they have nothing to do with being weak or crazy but rather ill.
Spread the word
- Share your knowledge with others.
- Share MHPOV!
If someone you know may be feeling suicidal
- Question and assess the severity of the situation.
- Refer to hospital or other resources.
- Persuade and accompany them to those resources.
- Call a crisis line in your area (1-800-SUICIDE, in B.C., Canada).
- Call 9-1-1.
- Go to hospital.
If you think someone’s life is at risk, don’t hesitate to act.
Taking a course, like Question Persuade Refer (QPR) training, to practice being in these situations can be very helpful. It’s easy to panic in these situations, so going through the steps of what to do before hand can be critical to getting someone help in the future and increasing your own confidence in how to help.